Robert Nilsson: To Trade Or Not To Trade

Robert Nilsson, abandoned for dead by most people following the Oilers (including me) at training camp, has come alive since returning to the lineup from injury, to the point where he’s been one of the Oilers best offensive players over the last dozen or so games. The question is this: does he have a long-term future with this team?

We can’t look at Nilsson’s recent run of brilliance without also looking at his early season stretch of futility. Here are his numbers on the season, split by that lengthy stretch outside the lineup:

  • Before: 12GP – 1G – 3A – 4PTS, -12
  • After: 15GP – 5G – 5A – 10PTS, +2

There’s quite a contrast in those two stats lines. In the first sample, we see a player struggling in both ends of the rink, and in the other we see one of the rare Oilers exceeding expectations. So which is Nilsson?

The simple answer is that he’s both. There’s a similar split we can look at: the difference between 2007-08 and 2008-09. In the first instance he was the best member of the ‘Kid Line’, the only one who could be trusted to some degree defensively, and a guy who could play in a sheltered role and dominate. In the second, he was a borderline NHL’er, drifting in and out of the line-up. This inconsistency has been a Nilsson hallmark since he first broke into the league with the Islanders, showing flashes or disappearing for stretches. When he’s on, he’s a tremendous player: gifted offensively and capable of playing a solid two-way game. When he’s off, he’s something else entirely.

Nilsson’s numbers over his Oilers’ career look like this:

Year GP G A PTS +/- 5v5 PTS/60 5v4 PTS/60 QC Off. ZS Rel. Corsi
07-08 71 10 31 41 8 2.37 2.66 10th 53.6 6.1
08-09 64 9 20 29 1 1.22 4.59 7th 55 3.4
09-10 27 6 8 14 -10 1.72 4.57 10th 47.5 1.4

5v5 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-5 situations. Anything over 2.00 is high-end territory, while anything below 1.50 is fairly sad. Nilsson’s been both over the course of his career, and while I fully believe he has the talent to hang out in the high end of that range, I don’t believe he can do it consistently.

5v4 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-4 situations. The first number (2007-08) on that list is atrocious, while the latter two are very good. I think that the first number is the aberration, and that the latter two reflect Nilsson’s true range; I’ve thought that since the end of 2007-08, actually, which was why I thought he had room to improve on that effort. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on his even-strength offence falling away.

Off. ZS shows the percentage of offensive/defensive zone face-offs in the offensive zone. Nilsson has consistently been among the team leaders in this category, and is again this year, although Quinn seems to care less about getting players out in particular zones than MacTavish did. QC is a measure of Quality of Competition, and the number reflects Nilsson’s ranking among regular forwards on his team. It’s a combination of how opposing coaches view his line and who his coach lines him up against, and we can see that Nilsson generally plays against poor players. MacTavish went for that matchup with Nilsson, and in Quinn’s case it seems to be a result of opposing coaches not worrying about Nilsson. From those two statistics (provided by Gabe Desjardins, as with the rest of this stuff) we can see that Nilsson’s been put in a position to succeed during his Oilers career, generally at the expense of guys put in a position to fail (Reasoner/Stoll/Torres in 2007-08 and Horcoff/Brodziak/Moreau last year).

The final number on the list is relative corsi, adjusted for ice-time and strength of team. Corsi is the sum of all shot attempts for and against, and reflects territorial advantage. Nilsson has positive but relatively modest totals here, but when we consider the difficulty of his minutes (lots of offensive zone starts, lots of weak opponents) those totals look vanilla.

It is my opinion that if Nilsson continues on his current run, Steve Tambellini should move him at the trade deadline. The Oilers have an abundance of small forwards, and they have an abundance of forwards who can’t be relied upon to play difficult minutes without a baby-sitter, and some of these guys need to be cleared out. Nilsson certainly has some value to a team short of these guys, but with Cogliano and O’Sullivan already on the roster (I’ve excluded Gagner because he’s significantly ahead of both the previous duo and Nilsson) and with all of Omark, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson joining the team in the near future and all meeting one or both of my earlier caveats, there’s no room for him.

In short: let Nilsson get hot a little while longer. Than maximize the return.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    If Bizarro world comes to life and the Oilers picked 1st. What's the better pick Hall or Seguin? With MPS and Eberle headed this way to join Penner a centre make more sense and (apart from making the jr. squad which isn't a career determinant) its a bit of a toss up between them. As an organization they are void of offensive centremen in the system.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    "What's the better pick Hall or Seguin?"

    Mark Syndenburg who is a talent scout says Seguin could have more long term upside over Hall, while Hall is a better player now.

  • Petr's Jofa

    JW,

    Do you really think that Nilsson's play over the last 15 games has changed his trade value? I can't see any GM who wasn't intrested in Nilson before now wanting to take a $2 mil for a player that is known to be streaky.

  • Bam

    Agree with JW.

    With our current roster and the prospects in the system we have way too many small forwards. Let's hope Nilsson can continue this tear he's on so his trade value is a little higher by the time a move is made.

  • Bam

    If deciding between Nilsson and POS on who to trade, well if the criteria is not trading the one who helps you win games now (and I mean all season long), then you dump POS. I just have no use for him and admittedly am not objective on this.

  • Agreed… Trade! His value is high. Plus the Magic man will pull a rabbit out of our collective butts any moment now before disappearing again.

    Seriously though, I have always been overly critical of Nilsson, and I can appreciate that he is one of few players that is playing well right now, but given the traffic jam of small skill forwards we'll have here next year, I'm going to single him out as a guy that should be moved.

    They'll need to save salary any way they can, and his and O'Sullivan's would be two that would free up a respectable amount. Remove Pisani by default (at the very least, a pay cut), and with any luck Moreau as well, and Staios and there's $11.2M available from 5 bodies.

  • Milli

    Trade Nilson, ya, he's good today, but come on, this has been the debate for 3 years, he's good, he's bad, TOO INCONSISTANT. Trade or waive POS, that kid is gutless, heartless and can't hit the net. I actually hope Nilson can keep it up, I just wouldn't put any money on it, remember BreX???????